A couple of weeks back, Rico penned a post saying goodbye to eBook DRM (digital rights management), following Tor Books’ announcement that it had extended its new no-DRM policy worldwide. The common sense arguments against DRM are laid out in that post, but, despite Tor’s decision, the brave new world of DRM-free eBooks isn’t quite here yet. Many authors and smaller publishers are embracing DRM-free books, but the big publishers and the major eBook retailers are still resistant.
This is not surprising, since an important profit-making strategy for large corporations is to restrict competition, and that is exactly what DRM does. It’s well known by this point that DRM does not prevent digital piracy—the argument usually made for it. What it does is prevent book buyers from moving their files across reading platforms. From a publisher perspective, this could increase profits by increasing the chance that some readers will end up re-buying books in the future, if they ever want to switch to a different reader, or somehow lose access to the account their books are attached to. It makes even more sense from the perspective of Amazon and Barnes and Noble, the major book retailers and producers of the two top e-readers. If you’ve already bought a hundred eBooks from Amazon, and you can’t read them on a Nook or a Sony Reader, you will feel locked into continuing to use the Kindle, even if a competing e-reader comes along that you’d like to switch to. And if you stick with the Kindle, you won’t be buying books from Barnes and Noble or any other DRM-restricted e-bookstore.
There are advantages to staying with a particular eBook “ecosystem.” Amazon makes a great e-reader, can sell you just about any eBook that’s available, and is very easy to use. Barnes and Noble can make similar claims. But whichever you choose, you’re pretty much stuck with that company (or whoever buys it out in the future) forever. And, for the moment, the big publishers are determined to “double down” on DRM, as Cory Doctorow describes here. Hatchette Book Group is trying to force its authors to sign contracts requiring them to make sure that any books they publish, even when published through other publishers, contain DRM. An author who has published with Hatchette and Tor, according to Doctorow, has received a letter pressuring the author to ensure that Tor does not remove the DRM from the author’s Tor books. It seems clear that these companies are not going to give up easily.